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Command the Courtroom: Part 2

Now that you've done the research and thoroughly prepared, the next steps take place in the courtroom.

Speak up

This is a struggle that after 10 years as a litigator I am still trying to find the perfect balance. As a woman of color, you have to balance stereotypes and tropes of being a female litigator along with ones that are tied with the color of your skin. As a female litigator some of the struggles you will face are being judged for your clothing choice, being judged for the pitch of your voice, being too emotional, and being judged for being “too bitchy” or “too meek.” You will have to fight harder to be taken more seriously, especially if your adversary is male. As a woman of color, you will be judged once again regarding your clothing choice, your usage of words, your viewpoint, the volume of your voice, implicit bias struggles, and the fact that, yes, you are an attorney. I once had a retired judge give a speech at a mock trial round about how our high-pitched female voices are hard to hear. Another evaluator commented on women wearing pantsuits and told the female students that by wearing them people would think they are dykes. I had a judge comment on my ability to speak English during an argument I was making for a motion in limine in trial to prevent opposing counsel from commenting on my client being a Spanish speaker.

When it is your turn to speak, be heard. Use the microphone if needed. Do not let any opposing counsel attempt to interrupt you. You will have to learn pointed ways to respond without using emotion. If you are interrupted, you can politely say, “I am not done with my presentation/argument, and you will have your moment to address the court when I am done.” Hand gestures to signal pauses or get someone to stop their interruptions are also a great technique. (No, I am not talking about middle finger usage.)

The more you practice, you will learn to read the room. You learn when to speak and when you have said enough. Sometimes that means speaking to make sure your clients’ interest is on the record and protect it even if the judge has ruled against you. Sometimes that means just keeping your mouth shut because the judge is likely to rule in your favor and a rebuttal is not warranted.

Continue learning

As a trial advocacy adjunct and mock trial coach for over ten years, I look for one thing in my students: are they coachable? The best advocates aren’t always the ones who are the smooth talkers, but instead the ones who are prepared, do the research, put in the work, and have confidence. So why do I ask if they are coachable? Because those are the advocates willing to learn and who will excel in their profession.

You don’t stop learning and perfecting your techniques just because you graduated or have a few years of practice behind you. Network with your peers. Watch other trials. Form a group where you can bounce ideas. Attend classes that address your specialty.

Take command of your career and the courtroom.


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